In the past few weeks, I’ve dived headlong into the ongoing Creation/Evolution debate (note: even though I find that particular terminology misleading, I will use it here to keep us all on the same page). It’s inevitable, especially when you are a Christian and a scientist locked in the same body and mind.
Now, from the outset, I have to warn that I am not about to roll off an amazing list of amazing arguments that will forthwith eradicate the theory of evolution from the face of Young or Old Earth. I have no such delusions, particularly because I still consider myself a student of the debate, and I haven’t yet heard every angle. Not to mention that the last thing this debate needs is another PhD making authoritative propositions that he or she hasn’t thought through carefully – and this I say to BOTH sides of the table.
Also, please don’t make any rash assumptions about where I stand on this huge debate. Stay your hand before you cast me into your particular fire and damn me either as an apostate or a fanatic.
So, if I’m not going to rattle off a bunch of arguments about dinosaurs walking next to men and Lucy being a monkey, what am I going to contribute to the debate?
Well, how about some ground rules? Seriously. I’m not pretending to be a referee here, but as I’m researching the topic I find that if the following three rules were applied consistently those involved in the Creation/Evolution debate, much time, energy and misunderstanding could be spared – and things would move a bit faster and a bit smoother.
OK, enough vague generalisations – vague because so far I’m addressing EVERYONE who comes near this debate. But the following instructions are aimed in particular to those who are arguing from (and for) a Christian standpoint:
In other words, don’t dismiss the debate and hope it will just go away. It won’t. Since 1859, when Darwin first published his Origin of Species, the idea that we got here by way of genetic mutation, adaptation, natural selection and a bit of luck has caught on like wildfire, and has understandingly spilled over into the philosophical realm. Worldviews and regimes have stood on it. Gigantic policies with far-reaching implications for all mankind are influenced by it. It is at the root and core of today’s aggressive western secularisation. Schools teach it. Legal courts validate it. Eminent scientists build their careers by work on it. It supersedes the Humanities, the social sciences, philosophy, morality, codes of ethics and ways of life because it affects the presuppositions of each one of them. It’s not some sinister conspiracy promoted by evil men in white coats; it is a foundational and integral part of the modern scientific edifice. And in one form or another, it constantly confronts us as Christians in our evangelistic and apologetic mandate, whether we are ready for it or not.
So, we’ve seen that we will have to get involved at some level. But how? Isn’t it best to leave it to Christians who are formally trained scientists and trained theologians?
Well, yes and no. It is true that the Creation/Evolution debate requires a good understanding of the scientific process, and reading a few Wikipedia pages just won’t cut it (having said that, scientists constantly turn to Wikipedia for reference). But on the other hand, Science is no longer the province of an elite group – we live in an exciting time of unprecedented openness and publicising of the scientific domain (if I said “stem cells” ten years ago would I have made the front pages?). For example, here’s an excerpt from a Nature editorial this week: “…there is no shortage of scientific information on the web. Witness the way that research funding agencies use the web to inform the public about everything from planetary missions to public health. In principle, anyone with an Internet connection now has access to more, and better, scientific coverage than ever before.”
And even though that often comes at a cost (LHC doomsayers anyone?), it also means that there is an organised effort to help the uninitiated comprehend as much as possible from the realm of scientific discovery. What does that mean? Quite simply, you don’t need a PhD in the life sciences to get a firm enough grasp of what’s currently going on in the world of evolutionary biology, because scientists will fall head over heels to explain it to you – and rightly so. There are resources out there – books, websites, videos, seminars, webinars – that can educate most people to an above-average level. And if it’s relatively easy to get valid resources, then there is no excuse for some of the abysmal argumentation that more often than not characterises the Christian camp to the mocking glee of the “other side”; it seems that some decades-old arguments are perpetually regurgitated despite having been challenged or even refuted. Or even worse, they reveal and/or lead to mortifyingly embarrassing misunderstandings of evolutionary theory (I really won’t mention that video again).
But having said all that, I feel compelled to propose that the frontline apologetic should be the burden of Christians who are formally trained in the sciences and those who are trained in biblical theology and apologetics. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga points out: “The scientists among us don’t ordinarily have a sufficient grasp of the relevant philosophy and theology; the philosophers and theologians don’t know enough science; consequently, hardly anyone is qualified to speak here with real authority. This must be one of those areas where fools rush in and angels fear to tread.”
It’s the way science is done: We observe something. Based on that observation, we make a hypothesis. We then test the hypothesis by testing its falsifiability. If the data from our test (aka “experiment”) falsify our hypothesis, we go back to it and either refine it or reject it completely. If the data don’t falsify our hypothesis, we re-establish it. Simple?
I still remember the first time I became aware that there was a debate going on. I wasn’t even a Christian yet, when at my church’s bookstore I picked up a little booklet that opened with something along the lines of: “When you wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror, do you say ‘I am made in the image of the most High God’ or do you just see an ape?” And shockingly, that line of argumentation still thrives today among certain people who pretend to represent an apologetic against evolution (I really won’t mention who, don’t bother asking).
But do a simple search on the Web and you will find hundreds of arguments challenging the theory of evolution. Then go over to a website like talkorigins.org and you will find some reasonable, well-researched and conscientious rebuttals to virtually every single one of them. And that seems to be the end of it. Where is the response of Christian scientists? Where is the refinement of the first argument or hypothesis? Why can’t we close ranks too and form a cohesive apologetic that keeps up with the times? The Creation/Evolution debate might really be a battle of a priori naturalism vs a priori biblical theism, but in the down and dirty it feeds and runs on the interpretation of scientific data – and that didn’t stop in the 19th century. If we want to get to a point where we can truly and validly reconcile science with the Bible on the issue of origins (which cannot be impossible), we won’t do it by arguing about errors that Darwin made– science has moved on since his time and so must we.
So, in closing, we want to be honest as Christians and honest as scientists. We don’t want to violate the authority of Scripture and we also don’t want to divorce our God from the realm of reason, especially when the Bible itself teaches that natural observation and reason bears witness of Him:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Rom. 1:19-23